Monday, September 21, 2020

POTD: Felucca on the Nile

From 2019 11 19 Aswan
Today's photo-of-the-day is from Aswan, Egypt. It shows a felucca, "a traditional wooden sailing boat." "They are usually able to board ten passengers and the crew consists of two or three people." "Despite the availability of motorboats and ferries, feluccas are still in active use as a means of transport in Nile-adjacent cities like Aswan or Luxor. They are especially popular among tourists who can enjoy a quieter and calmer mood than motorboats have to offer."

Bonus photo after the jump.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

POTD: Tombs of the Nobles

From 2019 11 19 Aswan
Today's photo-of-the-day is from Aswan, Egypt. It shows the Nile River and high above its bank, the Tombs of the Nobles, dating back to circa 2575 BC to 2150 BC. These were not pharaohs of Egypt, but a rank below — the nobility. Given the heated politics of today, I find it comforting to think of that vast span of time that separates us from the politics of ancient Egypt. How many governments rose and fell in the millennia since? No matter what happens to the American Republic in the near future (and make no mistake; democracy teeters on the brink), this too shall pass.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Broadchurch (TV 2013-2017)

Rotten Tomatoes
Broadchurch (TV 2013-2017). A dead boy is found on the beach of an English seaside town. Suspects are everywhere: neighbors and family. Detectives investigate. Focus is not just on solving the whodunnit, but on how everyone in town is affected. Character counts in Broadchurch. A-


Thursday, September 17, 2020

POTD: Mövenpick Resort Aswan

From 2019 11 19 Aswan
Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Mövenpick Resort Aswan on an island in the Nile River in Aswan, Egypt. The Mövenpick was our base for exploring Aswan and the Upper Nile. The Nile flows south to north, so the south is Upper Egypt and the north is Lower Egypt, a geographical detail that is endlessly confusing for some reason. In the background across the Nile behind the island that the hotel sits on, are the Tombs of the Nobles, dating back to circa 2575 BC to 2150 BC.

Bonus photos after the jump.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Polka King (2017)

Rotten Tomatoes
Polka King (2017): Biopic of rise and fall of Jan Lewan, a Polish Cold War defector who becomes a polka star and bilks his fans of millions of dollars. A PSA for gullible people. A Jack Black vehicle. He owns every scene, but his Polish accent just isn't up to the task. B-


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Man Who Would Be Polka King (2009)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Man Who Would Be Polka King (2009): Documentary of the rise and fall of Jan Lewan, a Polish Cold War defector who becomes a polka star and bilks his fans of millions of dollars. A short (69 minutes), low-budget film. Pay attention to his wife, a minor grifter herself. B-


Monday, September 14, 2020

Innovative Solutions for Texas Health Care

"Innovative Solutions for Texas Health Care." That's the headline on the campaign mailer for Genevieve Collins, GOP candidate for Congressional District 32. It's a fairly big card, certainly big enough to detail what the GOP's "innovative solutions" might be. This is what she offers:
  • Health Care That's More Affordable
  • Greater Access to Quality Care
  • Allow You to Keep Your Doctor

Friday, September 11, 2020

Class Action Park (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Class Action Park (2020): Documentary of a wild 1980s amusement park in New Jersey. Owner cared more for thrills than safety and let kids run the place. The result was something like "Ayn Rand meets Lord of the Flies." Adults reminiscing have fond memories of acting stupid. C-

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020): A surreal trip by a new couple into the country (and a blizzard) for her to meet his parents. Slow descent into her delusions, or are they his? The kind of movie that your college friends would tell you to watch high. Not for everyone. A-

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

We Proudly Endorse the Racist

According to an article in Slate, and consistent with my own observations, "In response [to protests], elected officials, police chiefs, and certain other writers say that most police officers are decent people doing a tough job to the best of their ability. They say that while acts of brutality should be condemned and punished, existing mechanisms are an adequate means of doing so. They say that the American system of policing is basically just and effective, not intrinsically discriminatory, and that the country’s police departments are not run by officers who hold personally racist views and are predisposed to violence."

One candidate for President shares these views. He "is critical of officers who perpetrate unjustified shootings and beatings, and supportive of peaceful protests against overpolicing. But he says that 'most cops are good, decent people.' He believes that the existing levels of police funding should be maintained. He does not believe that 'qualified immunity' laws should be changed to allow for easier prosecution of police brutality."

Public opinion polls show majorities of Americans agree. The candidate with those views is Joe Biden. You might think that many police officers would also support this candidate. After all, his positions are in line with their own public statements. Endorsements, however, suggest you'd be wrong.

Monday, September 7, 2020

An American Pickle (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
An American Pickle (2020): Immigrant falls into a vat of pickle brine in 1919 and is rescued in 2019. Just accept the premise. Seth Rogan plays the immigrant and his great grandson. Touching story of reconnecting with family and culture. Not what I expected from Seth Rogan. B-

Friday, September 4, 2020

POTD: Mosque of Ibn Tulun

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo
Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, the oldest and largest mosque in Cairo, Egypt.

Bonus photos after the jump.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Radioactive (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Radioactive (2020): Biopic of Marie Curie. Rosamund Pike plays an unlikable character, a prickly genius. It crams 60 years into one movie, as well as peeks at future benefits and ills of nuclear energy. You'll learn a lot about history, an amazing scientist and kickass woman. B-

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

POTD: Portrait of an Artist Sketching

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, the oldest and largest mosque in Cairo, Egypt.

After the jump, what the unidentified artist is sketching.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Random Thoughts: How to Wear a Face Mask

Tweets from August, 2020:
  • 2020-08-01: During all that bus time, maybe the Marlins could work on how to wear a face mask.
  • 2020-08-03: @JohnCornyn in other words: "Who are you gonna believe, me or your own lying eyes?"
  • 2020-08-04: Crip Camp (2020): Documentary about a 1970s camp in the Catskills for disabled youth run by hippies. Fun, games, brotherhood and independence. What they learned at Camp Jened prepared them to fight the government for rights for the disabled, culminating in the ADA. Inspiring. B+"
  • 2020-08-04: @jonathanvswan: "Oh, you're doing death as a proportion of cases. I'm talking about death as a proportion of population. That's where the U.S. is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, etc.?
    @realdonaldtrump: "You can't do that."
    Swan: "Why can't I do that?"

After the jump, more random thoughts.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Remembering the Pandemic

Now that COVID-19 is over (at least according to the Republican National Convention, where it was only mentioned in the past tense), it's time for a pandemic post-mortem. I rely on Ed Yong's article in The Atlantic, "How the Pandemic Defeated America." It's full of ideas to help us next time.

In case you didn't catch it, that headline and first sentence were dripping in sarcasm.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Shtisel - Season 1 (TV 2013)

Rotten Tomatoes
Shtisel - Season 1 (TV 2013): Israeli. Drama about 4 generations of an Orthodox family in Jerusalem. Some humor, more friction, lots of duty and tradition. Brief glimpses into what family and religion mean to each of them. For me, it opens a window on a fascinating culture. B-


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Martin and his Moral Arc

"The mythology of racial progress exerts a powerful hold on our minds." Mythology. That's the thesis of Jennifer A. Richeson in an article in The Atlantic titled "Americans Are Determined to Believe in Black Progress." Maybe I was primed to accept her pessimism. In any case, I kept finding myself nodding and quietly saying, uh huh.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

POTD: Courtyard of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the vast courtyard of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, the oldest and largest mosque in Cairo, Egypt.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Jayhawkers (2015)

Rotten Tomatoes
Jayhawkers (2015): Biopic of Wilt Chamberlain at U of Kansas. Basketball, racism, and surprisingly, jazz. Director makes the most of a small budget and wooden acting. B&W, dark and harshly lit basketball scenes with a jazz score occasionally raise this sports pic to art. B-


Monday, August 24, 2020

POTD: City of a Thousand Minarets

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, the oldest mosque in Cairo, Egypt.

Nowhere in the Muslim world can you find such a profusion of domes and minarets as in Cairo. Rising from the haze of crowded, crumbling streets in the old, chaotic, yet picturesque medieval parts of the city, they dominate the city's skyline. Minarets, indeed, are Cairo's joy and ornament and the source of Cairenes' favorite nickname: "Madeenet el alf Midhana," "the city of a thousand minarets."
Among Cairo's "thousand" minarets, Ibn Tulun's mud-brick, ninth-century mosque is said to be one of the simplest, yet one of the most beautiful. Devoid of any surface decoration, it is modeled on the minaret of the great mosque of Samarra, Mesopotamia (Iraq) where Ibn Tulun was born, and features an outer spiral staircase instead of the usual inner one. The idea apparently came from the spiral staircase of a Babylonian ziggurat thought to be the Tower of Babel.
Source: John Feeney.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Q: "We Are the Storm"

QAnon "is a far-right conspiracy theory alleging a secret plot by a supposed "deep state" against President Donald Trump and his supporters. No part of the theory has been shown to be based in fact...Q has accused many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking officials of being members of an international child sex trafficking ring. Q also claimed that Trump feigned collusion with Russians to enlist Robert Mueller to join him in exposing the ring and preventing a coup d'état by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros."

There's more, much more. It used to be that conspiracy theories floated on the fringe of American politics. Today, they are embedded in the highest ranks of state and federal government. "Highest ranks" is not hyperbole.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Is Criticism of Derek Chauvin Off Limits?

The political cartoon depicts Derek Chauvin. Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. The Richardson police do not have that man in their ranks. No honorable police officer anywhere should take offense at a cartoon condemning the actions of that man. You know where I'm going with this. Richardson Police Officers' Association FOP Lodge 105 takes offense.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Last Tango in Halifax - Season 1 (TV 2012)

Rotten Tomatoes
Last Tango in Halifax - Season 1 (TV 2012): Drama about three generations of an extended dysfunctional family in northern England. Not really a comedy, but there are scenes that are hilarious. At heart, it's about looking for love, sometimes against your better judgment. B+


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Babylon Berlin - Season 3 (TV 2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Babylon Berlin - Season 3 (TV 2020): German. Economic crash, police brutality, public protests, political corruption, a looming fascist takeover, and mobsters. Babylon Berlin is set in Berlin in 1929, but it speaks to America in 2020. Intricate subplots. Rich characters. B+

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

POTD: Stairway to Heaven

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo
Today's photo-of-the-day is of the entrance to the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, the oldest and largest mosque in Cairo, Egypt.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Project Power (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Project Power (2020): Bad guys do field tests on a new drug that gives people superpowers for 5 minutes at a time. Good guys have to find the source. Violence ensues. Gets a passing grade only because of Dominique Fishback. Oh, and its two Clint Eastwood jokes. C+

Sunday, August 16, 2020

To Donald: Sealed with a Kiss

Hypocrisy? Audacity? Chutzpah? I don't quite know the right word for the accusation I wanted to make when I opened my mail yesterday. Inside was a fundraising pitch from Donald J. Trump. Delivered by mail. I know that he has it in for the US Postal Service. Trump is frightened of losing re-election and sees his biggest threat as being, well, people voting. So he figures that the more he can suppress the vote, the better his chances. Hence, sabotage the USPS, since it's predicted that many, many people want to vote safely by mail in 2020 because of COVID-19. So he undermines Americans' confidence in the US Mail.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Long Shadow from Appleton

I was born in Appleton, Wisconsin. During my early childhood, I was blissfully unaware of politics. But Appleton was home base for some of the nastiest politics of the 20th Century. I gradually learned about the evil my hometown birthed and nurtured. In high school, I learned that the cemetery just down the street from my school was the eternal resting place of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Friday, August 14, 2020

POTD: Egyptian Lamp Pendants

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is from a sidewalk display of traditional Egyptian lamp pendants in old Cairo, Egypt.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Do "Black Lives Matter" in Richardson? As the old saying goes, put your money where your mouth is. George Floyd was killed by the Minneapolis police on May 25, touching off a national movement with the slogan, "Black Lives Matter." There were protest marches nationwide, including two in Richardson (at Berkner Park and at City Hall). The Richardson City Council invited Richardson Police Chief Jim Spivey to brief them on the department's policies, training practices, community engagement, and transparency initiatives. The briefing took almost two and a half hours. I was pleased to learn that RPD's use-of-force policies are already broadly in line with the recommendations of the #8CantWait campaign to reform police departments.

But (there's always a but, and if the council members themselves can't voice it, they aren't doing their jobs), I had some concerns as well. In two-and-a-half hours with Chief Spivey, no one uttered the words "Black Lives Matter." Maybe they all felt that was all taken care of two weeks earlier, when the City Council approved a statement condemning racism. Still, no one identified any specific areas for improvement in Richardson. No one called for change. No one put any money behind the sentiment.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Umbrella Academy - Season 2 (TV 2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Umbrella Academy - Season 2 (TV 2020): It's 1963. The siblings face another apocalypse. Time travel, civil rights, religious cult, JFK conspiracy, office politics in the commission maintaining the universe's timeline, and more family issues. Fast-paced. Never predictable. B+

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Richardson's Budget - Black or Red?

It's August and that means it's time for Richardson budget roulette. Will the proposed city budget be balanced? You'd think that would be a simple question. Isn't the city required by law to have a balanced budget? Well, yes, but it all depends on the meaning of "balanced".

When I looked at this question three years ago, I concluded that the city's 2017-2018 budget was indeed balanced and didn't require use of that sneaky asterisk ("plus reserved fund balance and other financing sources"). After watching this over a number of years, I found that the amount the budget is in the red or black each year is always small. Whether it happens in any given year seems to be a matter of chance.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Women Weren't Given the Vote. They Took It.

For a country that prides itself on its democracy, the United States has forced a lot of its citizens to fight for the privilege of voting. August 18th marks the centenary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declares that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” That milestone is sometimes described as having “given” women the right to vote. It wasn’t a gift; it was a hard-won victory on the part of suffragists who’d been agitating for it for more than seventy years, on the basis of their common humanity with men.
Thank you, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Thank you, Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul. Alice Paul especially was a real badass. She organized a march for women's suffrage down Pennsylvania Avenue the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. Anti-suffrage rioters disrupted the march while police stood idly by, giving no protection to the peaceful marchers. Then Alice Paul organized pickets in front of the White House designed to prod the president into supporting women's suffrage. The civil disobedience campaign lasted months. Paul herself was arrested several times and finally sentenced to jail for seven months. She went on a hunger strike and was force fed raw eggs through a feeding tube. The publicity of the horrible treatment of her in jail kept the cause in the public eye. After passage of the 19th Amendment, Paul said, "It was shocking that a government of men could look with such extreme contempt on a movement that was asking nothing except such a simple little thing as the right to vote."

Friday, August 7, 2020

POTD: Boys from St. George's College

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Cairo, Egypt, and shows a group of boys from St. George's College, located in Cairo's Nasr City district and one of the oldest private English-language schools in Cairo. The boys are on a field trip, visiting the same sites we were, and by the looks of it, having as much fun as we were. Kids are kids all over the world.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Upzoning Galatyn Park Station

Galatyn or Khrushchyobka?

The Richardson City Plan Commission unanimously recommended approval of an upzoning request for 140 additional living units over and above what the current zoning permits for a new development next to the Galatyn Park DART station.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Losing Faith in the Meritocracy

Americans like to pretend we live in a meritocracy, even when the Black Lives Matter movement smacks us in the face with evidence that we don't. The education system is similar. We pretend that if you apply yourself and work hard, you will succeed in school and life. In reality, it's hard to deny that what school you attended mattered as much as how hard you worked.

The STAAR was a reaction to that. STAAR, for those who might not know, is the school system's standardized test used by the State of Texas. It claimed to identify failing schools, which could then be targeted to change the educational outcomes for many students. George W Bush ran for and won the Presidency in part on his championing education reform that led to STAAR. The result was the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. Remember that? It was broadly popular once. Now? Not so much. What changed?

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Crip Camp (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Crip Camp (2020): Documentary about a 1970s camp in the Catskills for disabled youth run by hippies. Fun, games, brotherhood and independence. What they learned at Camp Jened prepared them to fight the government for rights for the disabled, culminating in the ADA. Inspiring. B+

Monday, August 3, 2020

Random Thoughts: 200,000 Oklahomans Get Health Insurance

Tweets from July, 2020:
  • 2020-07-01: 200,000 Oklahomans get health ballot initiative. That means they overruled the Republican politicians who don't want the near-poor who can't afford health insurance to get it. Next, Oklahomans ought to elect representatives who share their values.
  • 2020-07-01: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is the guy who said senior citizens would voluntarily lay down their lives to COVID-19 to prop up business profits. Patrick is a one-man death panel.
  • 2020-07-01: One day closer to the election and there's no sign of a Trump pivot yet. Will he ride "White Power" all the way to November?
  • 2020-07-01: Americans could learn from Bulgarians. "Russia Wants Bulgarians to Stop Painting Soviet Monuments To Look Like American Superheroes."

After the jump, more random thoughts.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Seberg (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Seberg (2020): Bio-pic of 1960s actress spied on by FBI to stop her from funding civil rights groups like Black Panthers. Out-of-control FBI; emotional breakdown of Seberg; too much story for 90 minutes. Pick one story. Show it, don't tell it. Good job by Kristen Stewart. C+

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Talking Union

Talking Union

If you want higher wages, let me tell you what to do;
You got to talk to the workers in the shop with you;
You got to build you a union, got to make it strong,
But if you all stick together, now, ‘twont be long.
You'll get shorter hours, better working conditions,
Vacations with pay, take your kids to the seashore.

Lyrics: Lee Hays, Millard Lampell, and Pete Seeger
Source: Talking Union.
I grew up in a union household. I'm a big supporter of collective bargaining rights, fair pay, good conditions, etc., etc. I believe that the free market, left to itself, will not deliver these things to workers. Billion dollar corporations simply wield too much power to expect any individual to be able to negotiate a fair deal. Unions help level the playing field. So, if I'm such a big union supporter, what's got me concerned with unions?

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

POTD: Ben Ezra Synagogue

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, Egypt. According to legend, it's located on the site where the baby Moses was found in a basket on the banks of the Nile River. "Egypt's Jewish community is at the end of a dramatic decline, from about 80,000 people in the 1920s to less than a dozen of Egyptian ancestry now residing in Cairo. Accordingly, the Ben Ezra Synagogue functions now as a tourist attraction and museum, rather than as a functioning congregation."

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

"Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste."

Remember back in April and May when meatpacking plants were hotspots of coronavirus? Do you wonder why they're no longer in the headlines? Do you think it's because the owners reformed how they are run and reopened them safely? Think again. The plants might still be hotbeds of coronavirus. We don't know because governments have allowed the plants to quit reporting statistics of the spread of coronavirus among their workers.

An old political precept is "Never let a good crisis go to waste." The idea is to take advantage of a crisis to advance a political agenda. The Bush administration used the notion to escalate the 9/11 attacks into a war on Iraq, which was not involved in the 9/11 attacks. The saying itself was popularized by Rahm Emmanuel, who saw the financial crash of 2008 as an opportunity to do the things he once thought were impossible. Today's crisis is the coronavirus pandemic. President Trump has proven himself incompetent at combating the pandemic, but that doesn't mean he isn't using the crisis to advance his own political agenda.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Friday, July 24, 2020

POTD: Cavern Church

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is of the cavern under Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Serga) in Cairo, Egypt. It's one of the oldest Coptic churches in Egypt, built in the 4th century and burned and rebuilt and restored constantly ever since. Beneath the church is the so-called cavern church, which legend says is where Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus stayed after fleeing King Herod in Judea.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Notebook (2004)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Notebook (2004): Old-fashioned melodrama, a sad tale of summer romance and missed opportunity. Can love conquer class difference and parental interference? Hits all the right notes. The second tragic tale is of trying to remember youth as Alzheimer's steals your memories. B-


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Mucho Mucho Amor (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Mucho Mucho Amor (2020): Documentary of Walter Mercado, a flamboyant TV astrologer/fortune teller/motivational speaker from Puerto Rico. Think Liberace. Or Tiny Tim. If you're a fan, you might love this; if you've never heard of him, you'll be shaking your head in wonder. C+

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

POTD: Pigeon Towers of Cairo

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Cairo, Egypt. It shows a pigeon tower. "Perched on rooftops across Cairo, like water tanks on elevated platforms, are rickety wooden cages where Cairenes keep their pigeons." It's a thing. If you're ever in Cairo, look up.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Comet NEOWISE...and Saturn

We went out Saturday night to see Comet NEOWISE. According to, the comet "is delighting skywatchers around the Northern Hemisphere." I'm here to say, "delighting" is an overstatement. At least if you are in a city. Even on a clear night, in a location with no nearby lights, there's enough ambient light pollution to make it hard to do much star-gazing of any kind. Because the comet was low on the horizon, that ambient light pollution is even more of a problem. From Richardson, Plano is kind of bright. And Comet NEOWISE was hanging low over Plano.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Rotten Tomatoes

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968): Classic Western. Lots of desolate scenery, haunting music, stoic staring. Plot stripped down to essentials. Product of its times. Macho showdown between Hollywood tough guys, with an Italian femme fatale. Sexist with a touch of racism. B+


Thursday, July 16, 2020

Closed Mic in Richardson

Richardson City Council meetings used to feature a "Visitors" section of the agenda. Members of the public were allowed to address the City Council on any topic. Each visitor was given five minutes at an "open mic." The City Council seems to have used COVID-19 as an excuse to do away with the "open mic" portion of meetings.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

POTD: Hanging Church

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Cairo, Egypt. It's a photo of what's best known as the "Hanging Church" in that it was built above a gatehouse of the much older Babylon Fortress. As near as I can figure out, the Babylon Fortress was built about 100 CE and the Hanging Church about 500 years later. I'm guessing Nile River floods filled in the area in that time and the church was originally built at its era's ground level. Sometime in the last 1,400 years, the fortress was excavated and stairs had to be built to reach the now "hanging" church. If so, it isn't the only such architectural oddity we saw in Egypt.

Bonus photos after the jump.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Old Guard (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Old Guard (2020): Ancient gang of immortals, led by world-weary Charlize Theron, are hunted by evil Big Pharma CEO intent on learning their secret to immortality. Actually a better movie than that synopsis might suggest. How much of a burden would immortality be anyway? B-

Best quote: Are they good guys? Bad guys? "Depends on the century," says Joe.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Defund the Police?

Joe Gamaldi, Houston Police Officers Union President and National FOP VP, posted on Facebook some data from a Pew Research Center survey. Gamaldi's post was shared by the Richardson Police Officers' Association FOP Lodge 105. That's where I saw it.

First, a summary of the Pew data. 42% of Americans favor keeping spending on policing about the same. 31% favor increasing spending by a little or a lot. 25% favor decreasing spending by a little or a lot.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Review: Trust Exercise

From Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi:

Open quoteAll fall and spring of the previous year they lived with exclusive reference to each other, and were viewed as an unspoken duo by everyone else. Little remarked, universally felt, this taut, even dangerous energy running between them." Trust Exercise

Trust Exercise: A coming-of-age tale of a volatile relationship, made more electric by a charismatic drama teacher. Then a shift in time and narrator throws everything into question. A brilliantly constructed story of the weaknesses of memory. B+

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Pandemic Next Time

It's time to worry about the next pandemic. What? Too soon? I don't think so. Ebola, HIV, SARS, H5N1 "bird flu," MERS, COVID-19. It's not like we don't know another pandemic is coming. The fact that we escaped the worst with each of these recent diseases, doesn't mean we always will. We've been lucky, even with COVID-19, which, even though the US has suffered 133,000 deaths and counting, turns out not to be the extinction-level pandemic it might have been. The "big one" is still coming. It's not a matter of if, only when. It's time to consider the pandemic next time.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

POTD: Babylon Fortress in Cairo

From 2019 11 18 Old Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is from Cairo, Egypt. We've moved on from ancient Cairo and those pyramids from 4,500 years ago and into modern times, if you consider 2,000 years ago to be modern. That's the gobsmacking thing about visiting Egypt. Its history stretches back so far that it's hard to reckon with.

The original Babylon Fortress was built in the 6th Century BCE. This photo, though, is of a slightly later version of the fortress, attributed to the time of Roman Emperor Trajan (ruled 98-117 CE). He rebuilt the fortress at its present location because the Nile River itself had shifted course. Even in its present location, it's still about 300 meters from today's course of the Nile. Its foundation is about 15 meters below street level. Wait long enough and everything changes.

Bonus photo after the jump.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Getting the Facts Right but the Guidance Wrong

The CDC originally did not recommend face masks because they knew viruses are small enough to get through all but medical grade masks. They didn't want a run on face masks, especially medical grade masks, which were in desperate need in hospitals. They didn't want people to think they were invulnerable wearing non-medical-grade face masks. By April 4, CDC realized they had the facts right but the guidance wrong. So they changed the guidance. Stay home, but if you really have to go out, wear a face mask. It's not perfect, but it's better than nothing. If everyone who has to go out wears a face mask while doing so, we can cut transmission of coronavirus and save lives. That's still pretty much the guidance today, three months later.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Witch: Part 1. Subversion (2018)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Witch: Subversion (2018): Korean. Confusing title, great movie. Has feel of "Kill Bill" or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Girl has magic inside, and maybe evil. What drives her? Survival, revenge, or love of family? Whatever, she's a girl to be reckoned with. B+

This was made in 2018, but not released in the US until 2020.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Term Limits for Heroes

Statue of George Washington in Smithsonian Museum

Statues of Confederate heroes* are coming down all over America. So are statues of Christopher Columbus and conquistadors. Not even the slaveholders George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have escaped notice. There are passionate voices on both sides. I have a simple solution that takes the passion out of the equation, now and forever after.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020): Musical comedy about Iceland's entry in European contest. More musical and better comedy please. Like a too long SNL sketch. Will Ferrell is miscast. Too old. The accents grate. The movie laughs at Iceland, not with it. C+

Thursday, July 2, 2020

POTD: Continuing Education in Egypt

From 2019 11 17 Ancient Cairo

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Oriental Carpet School near the step pyramid of Saqqara outside modern Cairo.

Bonus photos after the jump.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Europe Erects Wall to Keep Out Americans

According to The New York Times, "E.U. Formalizes Reopening, Barring Travelers From U.S. The bloc will allow visitors from 15 countries, but the United States, Brazil and Russia were among the notable absences from the safe list."

It's fitting in more ways than the obvious one.

Random Thoughts: I Never Had a Black Teacher

Tweets from June, 2020:
  • 2020-06-01: Wow. I'm embarrassed to say I don't remember *ever* having a black teacher. And being blithely unaware of that fact until just now. :-(
  • 2020-06-01: Irony. Many of the 2A crowd who insist on arming themselves to defend liberty from government oppression are now calling on that same government to impose martial law to put down protests against the government.
  • 2020-06-01: I admit, when Trump was elected, I feared he would start a war, but I never would have guessed the war would be against American citizens in our own country.
  • 2020-06-01: Trump is still pissed he didn't get his military parade in Washington, DC.

After the jump, more random thoughts.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Living in Exhilarating Times

2020 will go down in history as a pivotal time in American history, along with 1968, 1929, 1860, and 1776. The year has already seen a presidential impeachment, the coronavirus pandemic, economic collapse, and widespread demands for racial justice. All that in just the first half of the year. Still to come is a presidential election that will determine whether our nation survives as a democratic republic. We are witnessing history.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Hail, Caesar (2016)

Rotten Tomatoes
Hail, Caesar (2016): Farce about a 1950s Hollywood problem fixer. The Coen Brothers' homage to Ben Hur, Esther Williams, Gene Kelly, Gene Autry, and more. Add subplots with Hedda Hopper and Communist screenwriters, and the whole is a game of spot-the-references. B-


Sunday, June 28, 2020

LBJ's Civil Rights Grade

President Lyndon Johnson was responsible for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, thus doing more for civil rights in this country than any President since Abraham Lincoln. Still, the country erupted in violent protests against police brutality in the summers of 1967 and 1968. What went wrong? Maybe it was the unrealistic expectations that racism could be solved with a stroke of a pen. LBJ understood that progress is made in fits and starts.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Review: The Nickel Boys

From The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead:

Open quoteThe discovery of the bodies was an expensive complication for the real estate company awaiting the all clear from the environmental study, and for the state’s attorney, which had recently closed an investigation into the abuse stories. Now they had to start a new inquiry, establish the identities of the deceased and the manner of death, and there was no telling when the whole damned place could be razed, cleared, and neatly erased from history, which everyone agreed was long overdue." The Nickel Boys

The story of one of the victims of a 1960s Jim Crow reform school for boys. Fiction based on a real school in Florida. Story arc is depressingly predictable but offers some surprises. A timely contribution to today's Black Lives Matter movement.